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Keith Haring: The Political Line Symbols


Round lines and lines around figures indicate movement. Short, straight lines indicate sound—for example, the barking dog. A line around a figure indicates energy: physical, auditory, spiritual, or sexual.

FigureThe characters in Haring's work; generally, they represent people and players in society.
Barking dogThe "family dog" tag is, aside form the radiant baby, Haring's most famous tag. Generally does not have explicit symbolism, though sometimes indicates action or suspicion. The dog character, who sometimes is a standing figure (seemingly combined with a human form), can represent authoritarian government, abuse of power, police states, and oppressive regimes.
CrossA reference to organized religion, of which Haring was extremely skeptical and generally regarded with suspicion. The upside-down cross also appears in Haring's work and is an anti-Christian symbol from art history—the cross of St. Peter, who was crucified upside-down.
HeartNaturally, represents love or individuality.
StickUsually represents power and authority. It can also be a source of energy. Some art historians believe the stick may be connected to the artist's paintbrush, but it does not literally represent this object in the narratives of the drawings.
TVsRepresent mass media and technology.
PyramidsRefer to an ancient past and are also connected to the hieroglyphic-life movements of the "electric boogie" in hip-hop dance, which Haring often depicted his figures performing.
UFOsRepresent a kind of cosmic energy that can take on many forms. haring himself said that this had no single meaning. The UFO suggests a dystopian future and supernatural forces, and also may be picking up on themes of outer space and science fiction in hip-hop.
Upside-down figuresHuman figures depicted upside-down are usually B-boys and B-girls, the dancers of hip-hop, doing the iconic move in which they spin on their head. Figures contorting in backbends or jumips are probably also depictions of break dancers.
Radiant babyThe crawling baby, with lines emanating from around its body, is known as the "radiant baby"—Keith Haring's main tag, logo, or the symbol that represented him. Haring explained the nature of this symbol as representing youthful innocence, purity, goodness, and potential.
Three-eyed faceUsually represents greed.
PigsRepresents capitalism and consumerism.
Pink triangleNot only a symbol for Keith Haring himself, but also a symbol of gay pride and identification. In Haring's work, it is also associated with AIDS.
Monsters, snakes, and batsThese scary presences in Haring's work generally connote hellishness, fear, horror, or death.
Stairs or stepped pyramidsEntrances, usually to places of fear or terror.
Dollar signsCapitalism, greed, and money
Disney characters, e.g., Cruella de Vil and Mickey MouseHaring had a complicated relationship to Disney, so these representations are neither wholly praising nore indicating. Generally, they refer to mass media consumption and popular culture.
Figures with holes in their bodiesHaring notes in his journals that he first imagined a figure with a hole in his body just after the assassination of John Lennon. There is no strict symbolism here, but this figure may suggest violence and spirituality.